At the Chair’s request, all parties present introduced themselves.
Adrian Overton, Licensing Officer, introduced the report from the Licensing Authority. Representations were received from the Police, local residents and Councillor Rebecca Harvey. It was advised that all additional information submitted in support of the application had now been circulated to Committee members and interested parties for consideration.
Karen Ashdown, Environmental Health, noted that this application had been made by Ms Siu Chuk Au, Licence Holder for a renewal of licence for massage and special treatments for Orients Spa. On 22 January 2019 a test purchase was conducted at the premises and it was reported that the operative was offered services of an apparent sexual nature. In addition, references had also been made to Orients Spa on an online forum site. These included reviews of services received at Orients Spa and treatments paid for which were of a sexual nature. These posts were dated between July and October 2018, and the latest dated 17 January 2019. In addition, following a visit made to the premises, several breaches of the license conditions had been identified. These included no client records, insurance not held, unregistered therapists working and inappropriate advertising, and offering treatments not licensed. A warning letter was sent out.
Karen Ashdown explained that the Council had prescribed standard conditions which were applicable to all special treatment licenses and it was important for the business to comply with these conditions to up hold this type of licence. It was noted that the Applicant had shown disregard for the licencing conditions and had failed to comply with the Council’s requirements. Therefore, a recommendation was made to refuse the renewal of the licence. However, should the Committee decide to grant the licence, additional conditions listed on page 9 of the main agenda pack should be applied to the licence.
PC Lily Rellis, Dedicated Ward Officer noted that on 17 February 2017 the Police had conducted a welfare check at the property due to reports from local residents of suspicious behaviour and a suspected brothel being conducted within the property. 2018 further checks were conducted at the premises on two females with the Police National Computer and Immigration One female staff member was also in possession of a large sum of cash.
During the application process the Police had provided evidence which suggested that sexual services were being offered at the premises and recommended that the licence was not granted.
A summary of the evidence submitted by the Police was provided during the hearing, however due to the substantial amount of confidential information included in the evidence the full text of the supporting evidence would not be publicly available.
Mr Bruce Clark (Counsel representing the Applicant) addressed the Committee and noted that the Applicant had experienced some difficulty keeping up to date with the arrangements of legal paperwork from August 2017 until January 2019 due to the death of her husband. She was solely responsible for running the premises since the death of her husband and was grieving during this period. Therefore, had lost sight of the legal requirements. The Applicant had since appointed a Solicitor to ensure all legal documentations were in place. These included fire certificates, electrical/ training documents, staff records and purchase receipts for therapist uniforms. A file containing all the redacted documents was submitted to the Licensing department and circulated to Committee Members to review. Mr Bruce Clark felt that this demonstrated that the Applicant was now in compliance with the Council’s requirements and was happy to adhere to all the conditions proposed by Environment Health expect for the following:
The Licence Holder shall ensure that the offer or conduct of massage to persons of the opposite sex should not take place.
Mr Bruce Clark explained that the Applicant was unaware of the welfare visit made by the Police until the statement had been submitted. In addition, it was noted that no sexual activity had transpired during the welfare visit and felt that the evidence provided was unsubstantiated and not fit for purpose.
Questions from the Committee
Councillor Wesley Harcourt referring to the additional bundle asked if any information was still outstanding. Karen Ashdown said that the client records didn’t comply with the Council’s standard set of conditions. Furthermore, the documents suggested that a male therapist had been employed however the Council had not been notified.
Members asked whether any of the therapists had been interviewed by officers, following the evidence submitted by the Police. In response, Karen Ashdown explained that therapists had not been interviewed as this information only came to light recently. She noted that the Applicant had placed signs in the premises, requesting clients not to remove all of their clothing during a treatment session.
Councillor Fiona Smith said that whilst she appreciated the Applicant’s personal circumstances, what reassurances would be provided to ensure that compliance relating to the management of the premises would be met going forward.
Mr Bruce Clark explained that the Applicant had addressed the shortcomings noted by the Environment Health Officer and had made great efforts to fulfil the legal requirements and would continue to do so. The Applicant would also be present at the premises going forward to ensure it was being responsibly managed. A fire safety assessment had also been carried out and the findings did not warrant a notice of deficiencies. In addition, it was identified that the premises had good housekeeping and staff knew what to do in an event of a fire. Clients were not keen to provide their personal information, therefore keeping an index card of client records had proven challenging.
Councillor Wesley Harcourt queried when did the Applicant resume full control of the management of the premises following her husband’s death. Mr Bruce Clark said that her husband had passed away in August 2017. The Applicant was unhappy about the concerns raised by local residents and apologised for the lack of attention owing to her oversight.
The Applicant resumed management of the premises in January 2019 following the departure of the previous manager.
Members asked if there were any direct witnesses to support the Police’s statement relating to sexual services being offered at the premises during a welfare visit. In response PC Lily Rellis noted that PS Rebecca Hawkey had witnessed sexual activity being performed to a client by a staff member.
PC Lily Rellis also explained that the therapist physically ran out to the kitchenette room and escaped through a hole. She returned shortly after and was in possession of some blueberries from Tesco’s. The staff member was arrested for working in breach of her immigration conditions.
Members asked if there were further reviews referring to the premises on an online forum site. Karen Ashdown said that the latest post was published on 17 January 2019 a few days before the investigation was completed by an independent company on behalf of the Council. Reviews were shared on a ‘UK Punting’ website whereby users provided details of the services they received at the premises of a sexual nature. In addition, test purchases were also carried out by an independent company. This evidence put together gave an indication that sexual services were offered within the premises.
The Chair asked all parties to sum up.
Karen Ashdown noted that evidence presented at the hearing, suggested multiple non-compliances and sexual services being offered at the premises. The Applicant had taken action on safety requirements and updated staff records; however, this had only been addressed recently. Should the Committee decide to grant the licence, additional conditions listed on page 9 of the main agenda pack should be applied to the licence.
Mr Bruce Clark explained that the Applicant was making great efforts to ensure that the business was compliant with standards of conduct. The Applicant would be present at the premises more regularly and deliver a more hands on approach going forward.
The Sub-Committee adjourned at 12:06pm and considered its decision on the case.
Decision at 12:41pm
Taking into consideration all the documentation provided and the representations made at the hearing, the Sub-Committee refused the application